Decreased severity of disease during the first global omicron variant covid-19 outbreak in a large hospital in tshwane, south africa

F. Abdullah, J. Myers, D. Basu, G. Tintinger, V. Ueckermann, M. Mathebula, R. Ramlall, S. Spoor, T. de Villiers, Z. Van der Walt, J. Cloete, P. Soma-Pillay, P. Rheeder, F. Paruk, A. Engelbrecht, V. Lalloo, M. Myburg, J. Kistan, W. van Hougenhouck-Tulleken, M. T. BoswellG. Gray, R. Welch, L. Blumberg, W. Jassat

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256 Citations (Scopus)


INTRODUCTION: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019 is a global pandemic that is threatening the health and wellbeing of people worldwide. To date there have been more than 274 million reported cases and 5.3 million deaths. The Omicron variant first documented in the City of Tshwane, Gauteng Province, South Africa on 9 November 2021 led to exponential increases in cases and a sharp rise in hospital admissions. The clinical profile of patients admitted at a large hospital in Tshwane is compared with previous waves. METHODS: 466 hospital COVID-19 admissions since 14 November 2021 were compared to 3962 admissions since 4 May 2020, prior to the Omicron outbreak. Ninety-eight patient records at peak bed occupancy during the outbreak were reviewed for primary indication for admission, clinical severity, oxygen supplementation level, vaccination and prior COVID-19 infection. Provincial and city-wide daily cases and reported deaths, hospital admissions and excess deaths data were sourced from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the National Department of Health and the South African Medical Research Council. RESULTS: For the Omicron and previous waves, deaths and ICU admissions were 4.5% vs 21.3% (p<0.00001), and 1% vs 4.3% (p<0.00001) respectively; length of stay was 4.0 days vs 8.8 days; and mean age was 39 years vs 49,8 years. Admissions in the Omicron wave peaked and declined rapidly with peak bed occupancy at 51% of the highest previous peak during the Delta wave. Sixty two (63%) patients in COVID-19 wards had incidental COVID-19 following a positive SARS-CoV-2 PCR test. Only one third (36) had COVID-19 pneumonia, of which 72% had mild to moderate disease. The remaining 28% required high care or ICU admission. Fewer than half (45%) of patients in COVID-19 wards required oxygen supplementation compared to 99.5% in the first wave. The death rate in the face of an exponential increase in cases during the Omicron wave at the city and provincial levels shows a decoupling of cases and deaths compared to previous waves, corroborating the clinical findings of decreased severity of disease seen in patients admitted to the Steve Biko Academic Hospital. CONCLUSION: There was decreased severity of COVID-19 disease in the Omicron-driven fourth wave in the City of Tshwane, its first global epicentre.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-42
Number of pages5
JournalInternational Journal of Infectious Diseases
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • COVID-19
  • Omicron
  • South Africa
  • Tshwane
  • disease severity


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